Who are you? Neil Sparkes – Musician, Visual Artist, Writer.
Why Margate? I grew up in Deal, Kent and have known and loved this coastline since I was a kid. I lived in Cuba in the 1990’s and find there’s a strange parallel to the Margate sea front and the Malecon in Havana, but with the uniquely British “out of season” months which I love. There seems to be a gravitational pull to the coast from the city. It was the destination for my grandparents first family holiday after the Second World War and the town has always been present in my family’s memories. I have photographs of my family on the sands going back to the 1920’s. I like the edges: in work, painting, collage, living. Being on the edge, where the land meets the sea, where the sea meets the sky.
Why Arlington House? Arlington is a 1960s sentinel, a great tower of babble looming over the Margate sea front, protecting Dreamland. I felt myself drawn to the tower. Other buildings have had this affect on me: in New York I was staying two blocks from the Empire State and every morning before going to the studio I would take a coffee and stand staring at the building. Arlington was built in 1963 and was designed as an aspirational, modern building for modern living. In its’ original state it took pride of place in numerous postcards and photos of the time. Mixed into the concrete is an aggregate that made the whole structure shimmer and gleam in the sunlight.
How would you describe your style? Modernism on Sea? I was always anti-style and anti fashion, I prefer the collision of eras and as a kid in tribal Britain was never solely a member of any particular Youth cult. I love 1960s tailoring but with a pair of DM’s thrown in. Thelonious Monk with a dash of Lee Marvin in “Point Blank”. And a hat. As my apartment was unfurnished I was able, with the kind assistance of Mr Joe Brown at Margate Retro on King Street and Fort Hill to find all the pieces I wanted to reflect my taste. Mid-Century stuff, Joe’s unique bespoke service can’t be more highly recommended : an early ‘60s HMV gramophone with full service, a Parker Knoll armchair, a 1960s Tall-Boy which is a beauty.
If you were an animal, what would you be? The Raven.
Greatest achievement to date? The best thing that has happened to me recently was going to Chicago and falling totally in LOVE.
Who are your heroes? Nicholas Ray, Charles Mingus, Yukio Mishima, Orson Welles, Jack Kerouac, Thelonious Monk, David Smith, Jean Jacques Burnel, Joan Miro, Miles Davis, Peter Ackroyd, Luis Bunuel, TS Eliot, Bertolt Brecht.
Best thing and worst thing about your move to Arlington House? Best: The building retains a large number of its original interior features, the Grecian key tile design in the hallways, the lifts, there’s a very special atmosphere in the building. Once you are inside the apartment it transforms with the large windows which are like a series of 1960s scale canvasses with the constant changing sky and light. Worst: Sad to see all the arcades closed, let’s have the pub back, the launderette, Matassa’s Coffee Bar, a paper shop and a dive bar/ music venue please for us nighthawks.
How would you like to see the Arlington house site develop? So few original 1960s buildings remain relatively intact in the UK, Arlington is a gem. It is a hugely inspiring space for me – after a decade in cloistered Victorian houses it has edges and vision. As the beacon upon arrival in Margate any development has to showcase this.
What is your most valued material possession? Joe at Margate Retro procured “Tina” by Lynch in her original frame for me. Her black hair reminds me of my girl. I don’t care about material possessions much, having spent years as a collector of records, books, comics, toys, film stills and posters I feel they are part of me now and don’t need them anymore. I’d keep a few records and books. My favourite Ted Baker Ox-Blood Leather Shoes. Most treasured? A box my grandfather made as an apprentice in the 1930s with a secret compartment; it is full of treasures he gave me as a lad. My father has a box made for his Dad during WW2 by a German POW, I would like to have that.
If you could go back and live in another era from a design point of view, when, where & why? I have a great connection to the 1930’s and the tremendous energy and design of that period in the UK. The US in the 1950s with the birth of the Atomic era and Rock n Roll. Cuba in the early 60s with Che and Fidel. Jamaica early 1970s for the Dub Sound System revolution. There is no era other than now; I feel the influence of all those eras in our present.
Describe a typical working day. I start at 9.00am, write for an hour minimum every day. Depending on projects I work variously on making pictures, drawing and collage. Poetry is the starting point for lyrics, concepts for visual work and music. It’s a good discipline. If I’m touring or gigging I always make drawings and write wherever I am. Collage kick starts so many things in my working practice.
What personal attributes are most important to being creatively successful? I think it was Raymond Chandler who said thought is the death of creativity. Everyone has good ideas, get to work.
If you could change one thing about your home what would it be? I rent and really always wanted to live in a hotel. I love the changing weather, one minute it could be Oslo, the next Havana. I think my life is about the work I make and the places and relationships I am in when I make the work.
What inspires you? The sun really is God in this town. I have always lived near water I have realised. In London I lived in Bermondsey and Wapping for a long time, metres from the Thames. I look out of my window and can see the sea forts on the horizon, Reculver and then Essex as the Thames begins, starting point for my favourite book Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.
If you could collaborate with any musician past or present who would it be? My new projects include some of my favourite musicians, from my previous groups and players I have always wanted to work with. I’m excited to begin work with British pianist Alex Hutton, one of our finest pianists. Music has always been the greatest social and cultural arena for me, and still is.
If you were Mayor of Margate for a day, what would you do? Sell my jewellery and open Margate Caves.
In 10 years time where will you be? I’m a long term player so I am working on new recordings that consolidate the last decade of adventures and work, in the studio and live. Same with the new books and pictures, they all influence each other. I don’t stand still for too long.
What couldn’t you live without? Love, Coffee, Sun, Sea and Cigarettes.
Best advice you’ve been given? Most people get what they want, Everyone gets what they deserve.
What are your goals for the following year? The new works are my obsession, my constants. There’s a big horizon and I like a broad landscape to play in.
ROUND UP: Arlington House is a classic example of ‘brutalist architecture’, which flourished from the mid-1950s to the 1970s. At the time of opening in 1964 Arlington House was considered forward thinking, modern & luxury – creating a new utopia. Living up in the sky on the 12th floor, Neil has made his home & surrounded himself with a collection of midcentury &, antique pieces, exotic carvings, toys, books & records – all facets of Neil’s personality combining perfectly inside this aspirational & inspiring space.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Alex Hutton: http://www.alexhuttonmusic.com/
Margate Retro: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Margate-Retro/421600127933609
LINKS: www.neilsparkes.com, www.realworldmusic.com/composers/neil-sparkes, https://twitter.com/NeilSparkes, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Neil-Sparkes/210492252311308, https://soundcloud.com/neil-sparkes
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All images ©Jo Willis